Politics & Policy

ACLU vs. Civil Liberties

There can be no truce in the culture war — the Left has made that abundantly clear. It is not sufficient that there be a nearly unrestricted abortion license, or that those who object to it nonetheless be compelled to support it financially, through the Obamacare mandate and other federal adventures. The American Civil Liberties Union now is seeking to force Catholic organizations not only to subsidize abortions but to perform them as well.

This is a gross violation of the First Amendment and a despicable political gambit. That the ACLU deserves to lose this lawsuit goes without saying; more relevant is that the organization and its officers should be deeply ashamed of themselves even for attempting it. The ACLU once was an organization that occasionally (and opportunistically) interceded against the Orwellian boot stamping on a human face forever. The organization has even come to the assistance of this magazine in the matter of Michael Mann’s risible lawsuit against us. But in this matter, the ACLU is choosing to be the boot.

The ACLU is suing the U.S. Catholic bishops over the case of Tamesha Means, a woman who sought treatment for a pregnancy-related problem at a Catholic hospital, Mercy Health Partners. The ACLU contends that Miss Means should have been prescribed an abortion, but Catholic hospitals do not offer that gruesome service. The ACLU hopes to see the power of the state deployed to force them to do so.

This is not a question of legal access to abortion: There is an abortionist two blocks away from the main Mercy Health campus in Muskegon, Mich. As with the Obamacare mandate, the issue is not whether those who wish to avail themselves of certain services will be able to, but that those who object to them must be forced to participate. There is a kind of perverse psychology in play here: Any abortionist with eyes in his head knows exactly what sort of grisly business he is about, and the abortion faction, conscious of the blood on its hands, desires that everybody should have the same blood on their hands, so as to deepen the national commitment to the cause of elective homicide that in the vast majority of cases is practiced for the sole purpose of furthering sexual convenience.

The Catholic Church historically has built hospitals because it intends to minister to the whole man, and the whole woman, healing the sick as it feeds the hungry. The ACLU and the like-minded are happy to accept such benefits as Catholic charity offers, but only on their own terms. Because their politics are totalitarian, they believe that they have the right — legal, constitutional, and ethical — to make their moral preferences mandatory.

This belief is hardly limited to abortion. It was only ten years ago that the Supreme Court discovered, lurking in a particularly dark constitutional penumbra, a fundamental right to gay sex. In the ensuing decade, the federal government’s right to define marriage for its own purposes was found unconstitutional, and wedding professionals have been legally conscripted, as a matter of civil rights, into participating in ceremonies they object to on moral grounds. Which is to say, in the ten years following Lawrence v. Texas’s invention of a constitutional right to gay sex, participation in gay marriages has become legally obligatory. What began as the pursuit of toleration has become a demand for moral conformity. It is one thing to believe that gay people should be allowed to conduct their own affairs free of government intrusion; it is another to believe that the law should be deployed to force others to participate in them. Live and let live is a two-way street, or should be.

The Left’s schoolyard-sophisticate argument — “How will my gay marriage affect you?” — is based on a libertarianism of convenience, and it turns out to have an answer. It affects those who object to it by, among other things, forcing them to participate in a religious ceremony to which they object. If two students attempt to offer a prayer at audible volume in an otherwise empty classroom at a public school, the Left imagines a second coming of Torquemada. But a wedding is a religious ceremony — organized homosexuality has been quite clear on the point that mere civil unions are insufficient — the forced participation in which is an obvious and patent violation of First Amendment protections. We are given to understand that there may be one or two gay people working as wedding photographers and reception planners; presumably, they could be pressed into service by the Westboro Baptist Church, and any resistance to serving that ugly organization would amount to religious discrimination.

This pattern repeats itself with abortion: The Left is live-and-let live when it is trying to have one of its pet causes legalized, after which it seeks to use the police authority to ensure that its desires are not only tolerated but subsidized and participation in them made mandatory.

This legal adventuring imposes real costs on the vulnerable, a fact that apparently is of no consequence to the Left. For example, Catholic adoption services were discontinued in Massachusetts and Illinois when progressives decided that homosexual interests were more important than the First Amendment protections of Catholic service organizations, and that Catholic organizations would be forced to facilitate adoptions by same-sex couples. Catholic organizations ceased providing adoption services rather than violate their conscience. It is likely that if the ACLU should be successful in its current crusade, the result will not be wider access to abortion but less access to health care in general, as Catholic organizations respond by narrowing the scope of their activity. And that, too, is part of the ACLU’s program: If Catholic organizations cannot be conscripted into the cause of abortion, they can be pushed out of the public square by means of litigation.

The ACLU is here involved in a pitiless assault on one of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to freedom of conscience — this from an organization that still describes itself as “the nation’s premier defender of liberty and individual freedom.” If individual freedom means anything at all, it must mean the freedom at least to abstain from participation in bloodletting — something the ACLU itself once appreciated, when the bloodletting was being done in Vietnam and the organization was defending draft resisters. It is difficult to imagine a consistent principle by which moral objections to military service have standing and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty does not. The pro-abortion gang likes to say: “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” But it does not seem to have occurred to them that if they don’t like Catholic hospitals, they should go somewhere else. 


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